Dwarf cichlid – Apistogramma

Today we come to my absolute favourite perch – the dwarf cichlid. Especially the butterfly cichlid is a real enrichment for the aquarium. The dwarf cichlid is also called dwarf cichlid or Apistogramma. It is not only so sought after because of its colourfulness, but also because of its interesting and distinctive social behaviour in the group, as a pair and in brood care. All aspects of this ornamental fish are fascinating.

Origin Dwarf cichlid

Rollerbread / Pixabay

In literature the first reference to the dwarf cichlid can be found more than 100 years ago. The first leads to the biologist Günther. He researched and described the Apistogramma steindachneri in 1862. This was followed in 1906 by the American biologist Regan with the Apistogramma borellii and the Apistogramma commbrae. Further research and many biologists followed.

The original origin is the Amazon region in South America. Depending on the subgroup, the dwarf cichlid is also sometimes only found in certain areas of the river. By the way, the water of the Amazon is not the same everywhere. Depending on the location, it is clear water, white water, black water or mixed water.

Most representatives of the group come from the following regions:

  • Argentina
  • Paraguay
  • Uruguay
  • Bolivia
  • Peru
  • Colombia
  • Venezuela

The group of the small perch

The dwarf cichlids belong to the dwarf cichlids. There are many subgroups. The best known are:

  • Apistogramma
  • Dicrossus – Chessboard cichlids
  • Laetacara – Spotted Cichlids
  • Microgeophagus – Butterfly cichlids
  • Nannacara – shiny dwarf cichlids
  • Ivanacara
]As you can see, there is much choice. The most common subgroup in the aquarium is the Apistogramma, which is not least due to its robustness.

Dwarf cichlid fact sheet

Size: up to 10 cmSize of aquarium
: small, from 60 cm to large 300 litresDistinction
male/female: easy, females paler and smallerBehaviour in groups
: peaceful, forms a territory during the breeding seasonFacilities
: plantingFood
: omnivorous or only live food depending on the speciesWater temperature
: 20° – 28° CpH-value
: acidic 4.5 – 6.0 (Apistogramma up to 7.0)
Water hardness:

(very different and partly sensitive) up to 2 – 18° dGH (Apistogramma 10° to 15°)

Please note that basically every dwarf cichlid of the respective subgroup has its own values and the upper overview is more for orientation.

Which dwarf cichlid species are there?

Especially in the individual subgroups of the dwarf cichlids there are more than 150 species in all imaginable colours. Not all species originate from nature, but were created by human breeding. Usually only the colour differs. The only exception known to me is the butterfly cichlid with veil fins.

Here you can find some selected representatives that are well suited for the aquarium:

  • Inca
  • Agassiz
  • Butterfly cichlid in different colours
  • Cockatoo
  • Opal
  • Yellow
  • Panduros
  • Panda
  • Jurua
  • Steindachner's
  • Golden Belly
  • Dwarf pike
  • Blackthroat
  • Dual Stripe
  • Three-strip
  • Wilhelmi
  • Elizabeth's
  • Red line
  • Glossier
  • Transvestites
Note: The ending is always -dwarf cichlid.


The food intake of the dwarf cichlid is also very interesting. In the following video you can see why. The magnificent ornamental fish are pickers and chewers. That means they pick their food together with sand and chew it through. They spit out the sand again. The food comes into the stomach. Through this they not only feed, but also clean the inside of their mouth. Depending on the subgroup and species, the diet also differs. Basically they are omnivores, i.e. omnivores. But some species also want to be fed with live food only, so inform yourself better before. By the way, the splendid colours of ornamental fish can be enhanced by the right diet.


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Depending on the species, vegetable ingredients should be added to the tank. These can be the following:

]Please use only best quality here.

Keeping and furnishing in the aquarium

fdolmo / Pixabay

Not every dwarf cichlid is suitable for keeping in an aquarium. But we will go into more detail about the best cichlids for your tank in a moment. As this is a large group, each subgroup has its own needs.

Depending on the subgroup of the dwarf cichlids you also have to adjust the keeping conditions. For example, some of them prefer stagnant and slow-flowing waters and many water plants. Others prefer sandy ground or fallen leaves. All factors can of course be imitated wonderfully in the aquarium.

Most dwarf cichlids are very demanding in their keeping. A clean, germ-free tank through regular partial water changes is therefore a must. Less demanding is the Apistogramma.

Depending on the species one should not be stingy with the planting. Especially soil plants that grow densely are gladly accepted. In any case the substrate should be at least partly sandy, as this soil is essential for the cichlid (see nutrition). Otherwise one has to reckon with diseases of gills and oral cavity. As described in Sand or Gravel , you can also work with a small sand island. However, in this case you have to stop feeding here and refill the sand regularly.

In the socialization the colorful perches are quite uncomplicated. You should only make sure that the tank is big enough when having offspring, because both females and males will drive away everything in the further vicinity when protecting their brood. Apart from that, most dwarf perch species are quite undemanding in terms of tank size, as they do not swim around as much as many other living candidates. In smaller tanks you should only accommodate one male of the same species, otherwise the animals may be stressed. They will hunt each other (the bigger one the smaller one).

Size and growth

The dwarf cichlids have a very short life expectancy, which is between 1-3 years depending on the species. As there are many species of dwarf cichlid, the exact body size cannot be given in such a generalized way. Even if one focuses even more precisely - on the butterfly cichlid, for example - the body sizes here also vary greatly depending on the colour breeding. As a rule, the common denominator is that they do not grow to more than 10 cm. Beside the dwarf cichlids there are also the large cichlids which, as the name already suggests, grow considerably larger.

The male can usually be recognized not only by the much more pronounced coloration and the dorsal fin, but also by the almost doubled body size. This is also called sexual dimorphism. With smaller and young fish it can become more difficult to distinguish them.

Reproduction, breeding and brood care

The reproduction of the dwarf cichlid is particularly interesting. Usually the eggs are attached to cave ceilings, vertical walls or floor plants. The dwarf cichlid lives as a pair with a female or in a harem with several. If you observe that the female is under stress due to too much approach, then it is also useful to get a second female. Every female needs her own spawning place which is appropriate for her species. By the way, the males of the Biotecus group build cone-shaped large castles of sand in which the female spawns. The perch couple guard and care for the brood together and defend it with enormous effort and speed.

The dwarf cichlid is ready for mating or sexually mature after about 6 months. Here the ornamental fish should already have reached at least one third of its final size.

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